Grand Valley grape harvest gets start on 2013 crop

DAVE BUCHANAN/The Daily Sentinel—The 2013 grape harvest has begun in some spots around the Grand Valley. Many growers are reporting lighter expectations this year after many vines were affected by cold temperatures. Here, cabernet franc grapes ripen on East Orchard Mesa.

Less than two weeks away from the 22nd annual Colorado Mountain Winefest presented by First National Bank of the Rockies, local winemakers are focusing on the start of 2013 harvest.

This year’s Winefest is Sept. 19–22, with the popular Festival in the Park set for Sept. 21. Tickets and information are available on the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology website,

At this time last year, grape harvest was at full speed, a frenetic rush that saw many winemakers finished with harvest before Winefest, a full month early.

“It was like I got a month of my life back,” said Parker Carlson of Carlson Winery on East Orchard Mesa. “I don’t ever remember harvest being done that early.”

It’s unlikely he or the other winemakers will be as lucky this year.

Last January’s deep freeze combined with the April 20 cold snap left many vines damaged and it’s now, when grapes should be ripening, that some of the damage is being felt.

Among the valley’s red-wine grapes, it seems merlot took the hardest hit, and you’ll have to look hard to find any substantial amounts of what is one of the most-popular red grapes.

“I just don’t think you’re going to find much merlot this year,” said Bennett Price at DeBeque Canyon Winery in Palisade. “Even some of the places that usually are protected from the cold got hit this year.”

One of the few vineyards with merlot is Canyon Wind Cellars on the east end of the valley.

“We maybe lost 10 percent, but some of that is our cabernet franc,” said co-owner and winemaker Jennifer Christianson. “Our merlot is fine and we’ve already picked and crushed our merlot for our merlot rosé.”

The 2012 version of that rosé, bottled under the 47-Ten label, won “Best Rosé” at the 2013 Governor’s Cup Competition earlier this year.

White-wine grapes usually are picked first but Christianson said their whites are bit behind some of the red varieties.

“I think the combination of the winter and then the spring cold delayed the whites a bit,” she said. “This is the first time I know of we picked some reds before we picked the whites.”

Carlson, who uses merlot in several of his red blends from Carlson Vineyards, said he’s hoping to get his allotment of merlot from local grower Bruce Talbott.

“He said he could get me 20 tons of merlot and shiraz, but I don’t know what the percentage will be,” Carlson said.

Many growers are saying cabernet franc, known for being more cold-hardy than other red varieties, came through the winter in good shape.

“It’s like it wasn’t affected,” said Neil Guard at Avant Winery on East Orchard Mesa. “My syrah is gone but the cab franc looks as good as ever.”

Normally, the eastern end of the valley is protected from winter’s coldest temperatures by the year-round breeze blowing out of DeBeque Canyon.

That probably is what protected Canyon Wind Cellar’s merlot, but last January the cold sat deep at the foot of Grand Mesa, a layer so thick even the 50-foot-high wind machines had no effect.

Some vineyards that rarely see winter damage are saying they’ve lost 40 percent or more of their grapes.

“We had some varieties that did real well and some that didn’t do so well,” said grower Kaibab Sauvage, who owns and manages vineyards in the Vinelands area. “Still, I fared better than other spots.”

Jenne Baldwin-Eaton at Plum Creek Winery said she’s already started harvesting and crushing some of her whites, including sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and chardonnay.

“Our reds aren’t quite ready, but it won’t be long,” she said. “Last year, everything seemed to come early so most of us were done by Winefest.

“It won’t be like that this year.”

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